SF Writers

20
Jan 09

SF Writers: Philip K. Dick

FT3 comments • 262 views

(The start of a parallel series to that recently started on crime writing. I’ll repeat something of what I said there: I mostly read literary fiction, so I’m mostly looking for the same kind of qualities I like there in SF. I know my science reasonably well, but I really don’t care whether the author does, or whether they use it much or at all.)

Dick’s a contender to be my favourite writer ever, the only one who has remained somewhere in there since my mid-teens. I found him mind-blowing then, and still do. Oddly, the closest comparison, for me, is with comic book great Jack Kirby: the two best examples of what I think of as the genius hack. Like Kirby, Dick was immensely productive, albeit for a far shorter time – for a while he was turning out four novels and lots of short stories a year. Their brilliance and concern for their own themes shines through even in many of their most routine works. In Dick’s case, these concerns centred around the nature of reality and humanity, the idea that the consensus was not reliable, not as simple as it seemed. I guess a man who lived for years next to Disneyland while taking tons of hallucinogenic drugs would end up with an interesting slant on reality.

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8
Feb 09

SF Writers: China Mieville

FT10 comments • 638 views

I haven’t read all that many new writers within this genre in recent years, and I’ve been impressed by even fewer, but China Mieville is exceptional. His first book is not great, but the next two, Perdido Street Station and The Scar, are magnificent. They’re set in the same world, an extraordinary creation teeming with fresh and striking ideas, written with prose that approaches that of an obvious inspiration of his, M. John Harrison (my vote for best SF prose ever, and one of the best living prose stylists), with whom he also shares that New Wave interest in the likes of social outsiders and artists.

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9
Mar 09

SF Writers: Theodore Sturgeon

The Brown Wedge1 comment • 204 views

I happened to just now read one of his, The Cosmic Rape, which prompted me to write about him next. This short 1958 novel is about a hivemind entity making first contact with humanity. It has taken over two galaxies and is working its way through its third, and all of the intelligences it has encountered are collective. It concludes that humanity has split apart as a defensive measure at first contact with this alien mind, so its first task, before taking it over, is to put it back together.

There are two points to make about this. Firstly, unlike almost any other writer before the New wave, Sturgeon’s interest is in mind, in how we think, rather than in futuristic tech and aliens and so on – this is what made him a key figure to the New Wave, why we get a blurb on the back cover by Samuel Delany saying his work “is the single most important body of science fiction by an American to date”.

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14
Mar 09

SF Writers: Samuel Delany

The Brown Wedge6 comments • 330 views

It’s hard to know where to start with Delany. He’s not really been much within SF for a long time, and my favourite novel by him (and probably by anyone), while published as SF, mostly isn’t. Still, he started in the field, writing extraordinary works blending poetry, space opera and philosophy in a way that is very representative of the transitions the new wave brought about in the ’60s. If I had to choose the cleverest person ever to write SF, he’d be my nomination.

A good example of the early SF might be Babel-17 (1966), a novel where the threat from alien invaders is not in any sense physical: it’s their language. It changes the minds of anyone that it touches. We get spacecrafts and their crews, but these are not at all military or heroic in style – the characters are outsiders and poets and the like. The effect of the language embodies the Sapir-Whorf theory of linguistics, that language affects our perception and interpretation of the world, and a reaction against Chomsky’s ideas (much the more favoured at this time) that language is functional and natural. This approach to SF was new.

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25
Mar 09

SF Writers: Stanislaw Lem

The Brown Wedge7 comments • 404 views

Lem was a Polish SF writer, occupying a strange place within the genre. He despised most SF (Dick was the only American SF writer he admired – an opinion that was not remotely reciprocated) for its vacuity and shallowness, which accurately implies the seriousness and philosophical bent of his own work.

His most famous novel is Solaris, made into a great film (the Tarkovsky version is my favourite science fiction movie) and later a decent one. It concerns a first contact with aliens: the distinct idea behind most of Lem’s several approaches to this standard SF trope is that Lem believed communication with an alien mind, or comprehension of it, would be all but impossible.

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